Know Thyself; and Thou Shalt know UPSC
Vikram Grewal, Rank 51, CSE – 2018
In times of distress I search for refuge in poetry.
The preparation for UPSC Civil Services Exam 2018 was a journey that needed a song that I could hum along the way. A journey that needed pointers spread across my way to assure myself that I was on the right path. It was a period in my life that needed words of inspiration on a daily basis.
And I found strength in the words of Kipling:
“If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:”
Through this verse I realized that it held the essence of the Civil Services examination as a whole. It is a struggle of the mind with itself. A test of character. A mission that demands persistence, consistency and optimism. It does look for knowledge in the candidate but more than that it searches for the ‘application’ of that knowledge.
Above all, UPSC probes a youthful mind to seek ‘equilibrium’ in it. ‘BALANCE’ is the foremost quality that the examination attempts to bring out in an aspirant. A balanced mind with an adaptable viewpoint- an empathetic perspective that would be able to understand the problems of the nation. An understanding that would accommodate the views of people from different strata of the society. A mind that has clarity of thought and yet is aware of its ignorance. That is what a generalist attitude implies. All inclusive and forward looking.
With balance, comes ORIGINALITY OF EXPRESSION. A mind that embraces the positives and negatives of an issue is able to put forward innovative solutions. UPSC considers that in high regard, especially in Mains and Personality Test stages. Even in Prelims, a balanced opinion gives way to understanding questions comprehensively which reduces the chances of marking a wrong option.
When it comes to strategizing about the exam, candidates tend to forget all the above characteristics and give way to a web of complexities. This brings me to another chief attribute that UPSC looks for and that is SIMPLICITY! Strategies to succeed should be plain and simple:
- Consult the syllabus regularly.
- Read the basic books esp. NCERTs; don’t have multiple sources.
- Collect data from newspapers, Daily- Monthly- Annual compilations.
- Make precise notes and revise them.
- Practice Mock Tests under exam conditions (I gave Insights IAS prelims test series-2018.)
(Each successive step is more important than its preceding one.)
During the journey your Simplicity will be challenged in the form of coaching institute’s extra classes, seniors’ advice, relatives’ suggestions and your WhatsApp/Telegram groups. The key is to not lose track of your SIMPLE strategy.
Do not increase your materialistic capacities with more books, notes and teachers; increase your thinking capacity! It is a mental battleground that ticks by the watch and jousts by the pen. Knowledge is power, yes! But you need to be selective about its usage. You can only carry limited number of arrows in your quiver. The point is to OPTIMALLY use them.
Too much knowledge makes your baggage heavy and slows you down; but a swift brain can increase your speed. Hence, use mnemonics, abbreviations and self-made tricks to enhance your memory which will improve your chances of identifying the right option in prelims. Moreover, CRITICAL THINKING is crucial. By making a SWOT analysis of issues you can make better notes and score well in answer writing.
Next up, being REGULAR and DISCIPLINED is indispensable. No matter what your strategy is, it is pointless if you are not consistent with it. To stay regular, have a do-able prep routine. Divide your day into small sessions and fill in the breaks with constructive rejuvenation activities. For example, listening to All India Radio, watching a documentary film, meditating and your favourite playlist can work wonders for your concentration and prepare your GS, Ethics, Essay papers simultaneously.
That being said, don’t be a TECH-SLAVE. Use internet wisely. Restrain from social media and save time! TIME IS THE ULTIMATE BOSS! “You mess with it, it’ll mess you up.”
Finally and most importantly, you need a SOLID SUPPORT SYSTEM. This can be your parents, friends, relatives or anyone who understands your aims and aspirations, who can keep the fire in your belly burning. Find in the daily monotony, springs of inspiration. It can be Rafi’s voice or Kate McKinnon’s comedy or Sahir’s lyrics or Keith Richards’ riffs or anything under the sun.
Awaken the curious child inside you. All the answers are half-asleep inside you. Reading and writing will only help you stir it up. And that’s the underlying message of this exam. The journey to become a good civil servant begins with being a good student for (and of) life and its manifestations which include success and failure.
“If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same…
…Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it…”